I’ll be honest I read some reviews of this book before I read it that were less than effusive with the result that when I came to read it I was fairly sure I wouldn’t enjoy it, I was wrong. It was an incredible read which reflects on what we leave behind when we die as much as it is about the mystery of how Alice Salmon dies.
Alice Salmon was drunk, she got separated from her friends in a night out in Southampton and ends up drowning in the river. How she died, no-one knows. Was it suicide? Was it murder? Or was it simply a tragic accident?
Professor Jeremy Cooke who is part of the anthropology faculty at the university attempts to document Alice’s life with a view to find out what happened. Jeremy is definitely an odd character who feels that he has a connection with Alice because he knew her mother, furthermore he’d taken an interest in Alice when she attended the university before starting her career in journalism. The overarching narrative comes from Jeremy in the form of a handwritten letter to his friend, another leading scientist, but the larger part is made up from contemporary sources; text messages, twitter, facebook as well as media interviews and blogs.
I like the fresh approach to the writing style, it didn’t feel like a gimmick given that I believe the author’s point is that when we die, these electronic footprints don’t disappear. I can’t be the only person that has noticed that the media seize on facebook photos of anyone who finds themselves part of an investigation, which one they pick can be used to reflect what ‘story’ they are trying to sell. Jeremey’s approach is to put all these pieces together, almost as if he is trying to bring Alice back to life, if he can gather all the trails of her interactions with her friends, her family and her boyfriend Luke together everyone will get to see the full picture. The fact that we all know that someone’s essence doesn’t live on the pages of their diary or their text messages doesn’t matter because what it does, is bring another element of their life into focus, what it can’t do is say which part is more important than another and the author really does bring into the play that humans are contradictory beings. What Jeremy does uncover though is the sequence of events on the night in question, long after the police had shelved their operation, and the best thing is that reader gets to put the same jigsaw puzzle together.
As the story is told about Alice after her death, she did seem a bit remote, I didn’t care as much as I’d expect to about her life, in fact I had more concern for her mother and how she was coping with the revelations as well as her past coming back to haunt her but maybe that’s just a sign of my age!!
I received my copy of this book through Amazon Vine for review purposes and I will definitely be eager to see what this talented debut novelist produces next. What She Left was published on 23 April 2015 by Michael Joseph.